The agriculture sector took a major hit as farmers across the country suffered a steep loss worth approximately BDT 565.36 billion (56,536.68 crore) during the public holiday announced to contain COVID-19 pandemic. This loss was incurred in one and a half months between March and May.
This was revealed in a research conducted by BRAC during these 45 days. The research covered all the subsectors namely, crop and vegetables farming, poultry and livestock and fishery. Two studies were carried out as part of the research, one of which surveyed the situation of the farmers at the producers' end, while the other focused on the market situation and how its disruption impacted the farmers during this period. A representative survey was also conducted under the research interviewing 1,581 farmers across the country.
The findings along with a number of recommendations of the research titled “Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture and implications for food security” were revealed at a digitally organised press conference today, on Thursday (4 June 2020).
Dr MA Sattar Mandal, former vice chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University and former member of Planning Commission, Eleash Mridha, managing director of PRAN Group, Dr FH Ansarey, managing director and CEO of ACI Agribusiness, and Mohammad Anisur Rahman, director of BRAC Dairy and Food Enterprise, joined the event as panellists. KAM Morshed, senior director, BRAC, moderated the press conference, also attended by journalists, agricultural specialists and researchers, among others. Two farmers also joined the event to share their experience.
The findings show the prices and sales of essential agricultural products, especially coarse rice and red lentils, went up during the early days of the pandemic due to panic buying of consumers and high demand of relief-providing entities. The trend resulted in the rise of rice and lentil prices by 30-32% while the traders had a 300% rise in their sales of these products. However, the surge in market demand could not benefit the farmers as they sold their stock before the pandemic began.
The producers of non-relief and perishable items also had a hard time to continue the production and sell of their products. Overall, 88% of all farmers (100% of fish farmers) reported economic losses owing to production and marketing problems.
Farmers mentioned lack of fair prices (66%), limited operation of markets (52%), higher prices of inputs (45%) and unavailability of labour (28%) as the prime causes behind their sufferings.
Due to damages to their produce and low prices, each farmer suffered a loss of an average of BDT 207,976 during the 45 days period. Based on the number of farmers in the country in each of the sub-sectors, the value of loss was estimated at BDT 565.36 billion.
Ex-member of the Planning Commission Dr MA Sattar Mandal thanked BRAC for conducting the research and said retailers, distributers, agents and middlemen should be prioritised and that their expertise should be utilised to tackle the current situation as they play important roles in the market.
PRAN Group MD Eleash Mridha said measures should be taken to facilitate farmers in those areas where the spread of coronavirus is lower.
ACI Agribusiness MD Dr FH Ansarey stressed on tech-based agricultural innovation.
“Agro processing technologies need to be given preference. The government should allocate BDT 10bn (1000 crore) for improving connectivity of farmers with the private sector, dealers and extension service,” he said.
BRAC Dairy and Food Enterprise Director Mohammad Anisur Rahman said constant decline in demand since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic spoiled farmers’ produce at a huge margin. Dairy farmers suffered a lot as they had to dump milk, he said “If the situation lingers, the result will be ominous. If farmers change their profession, food safety of the country will be endangered,” Rahman added.
Of the farmers interviewed, 42% reported that they had no way to cope up with the crisis, while 60% of crop and vegetable farmers said they had to absorb the losses fully. Approximately 11% of all farmers and 17% of poultry farmers had to reduce their production, while another 2% stopped production. Poultry farmers encountered huge losses as prices dropped by 44% owing to the closure of all restaurants during the holiday.
As the demand of poultry products reduced, the farmers reduced their production too, which resulted in the shortage of supply and thus the prices increased. Prices rose by 26% for farm chicken and 8% for eggs during second week of May.
As the demand declined by almost 33-60% with the prices going down by 12.5% at the retail level and 22% at the farmers’ end, livestock farmers had to reduce their production.
Of the interviewees, 41% respondents (69% of fish farmers) are planning to depend on credit to survive, 14% will have to depend on their alternative income sources, 18% will either draw money from savings or sell their assets. Another 18% of the respondents still have no plans and 5% are planning to change their profession if they have to discontinue their production.
Of the respondents, 66% want to get loans from the government on easy terms. As many as 56% farmers want fair prices for their produce, while 48% want necessary inputs at affordable prices.
Of the farmers interviewed, 64% are aware of incentives the government announced for them, but 79% of them had no idea or had a misconception about how to avail the facility. Most significantly, only 20% of the respondents reported to having prior experience of taking formal loans from banks.
The studies also gave a number of recommendations based on their findings, which include developing a farmer-friendly credit disbursement system, introducing innovative disbursement mechanisms through mobile financial services and NGOs, and reducing red-tape barriers.
Ensuring wide-scale injection of cash to boost people’s purchasing power, Ensure the government’s intervention in procurement and supply chain systems to rectify price falls such as establishment of collection centres for agro-produces closer to smallholder producers, and facilitating and providing incentives so the backward and forward linkages to adequately improve the support system to the industry were also recommended in the research.
Developing sub-sector-specific short, medium and long-term plans, focusing on innovative tech-based agribusiness models and making quality seeds and other inputs available to farmers were also stressed.